Staying true to a mission while expanding

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

It's rare that much really catches my eye related to renovations or brand-new senior care facilities. The bistro, spa-like amenities, movie theater, outdoor courtyard: They're great to list, and we're happy to run news about them in our Deals section online or Design Decisions department in the print magazine. But I have to admit: It's not often I feel compelled to learn much more about them.

But in the case of Masonic Homes of Kentucky, one element in particular caught my eye: Its history as a refuge for widows and children, and how the latter continue to inspire its mission.

After the Civil War, many Kentucky Masons (basically men in a religious fraternity) left behind survivors who no longer had anyone to provide for them. The Masonic Widows and Orphans Home was established in Louisville in 1867.

“More often or not, they were not orphans by definition, but didn't have the resources they needed,” said Masonic Homes' Nicole Candler, senior vice president of communications and marketing. “Our campus was kind of a self-sustaining farm by definition. Children were taught trades and shoemaking and got a skill base.”

At its height, circa the late 1950s, there were probably 600 orphans and several hundred widows, Candler told me. By the time the last child left in 1989, there were safety net programs, such as Social Security, that would help widows and families. Yet the organization found that there was still a need to care for both Masons and their wives as they aged.

That said, as the community grew, the organization opened its doors to the general public in early 2000, regardless of affiliation. Buildings that had been used by widows and orphans were renovated to become a set of independent living apartments, a phase that began in 1997 and wrapped up in 2004.

“Within the last 10 to 15 years, I think all of our campuses have seen tremendous growth. One of our core values is to expand and offer services to those who need it,” Candler said. “When there was no construction happening in the country and people were not developing, we were doing it on our campus.”

Masonic Homes, which also has campuses elsewhere in northern Kentucky and Shelbyville, KY, created the first life plan community in Kentucky — in Louisville, in 2013. Its development included a new healthcare center that opened in 2010 and a pediatric day care center (called Sproutlings), which opened in 2012. One of the fascinating aspects of the latter is that it is one of the few in the country to combine medically fragile and typical children.

These type of day care programs are rare, and needed. The day care center accepts, for example, children with genetic or respiratory disorders, cerebral palsy, and developmental delays — this in addition to typical children, and all with a focus on a “one family” approach that encourages integration and kindness.

“A number of our employees participate in that program. We have about 70 families with children enrolled there and half of them are medically fragile,” Candler explains. “If you have a child that needs tube feeding or breathing treatment or has developmental issues where they need OT or PT, they can participate.”

The support for Sproutlings was through, and reflected, the mission of Masonic Homes.

“We were really able to get support from stakeholders and build that center in Louisville,” she says.

Now, new construction involves two new facilities, including the Meadow, which is 120 independent living units set to open in 2018. There's also Grove Pointe, a building for 48 assisted living units, also set to open next year. From a financial standpoint, there's additional good news — the community, which has raised revenue from $14 million annually to $45 million, is expected to hit $60 million in a few years.

It all was a reminder of how smart stewardship doesn't mean forsaking a mission. Certainly not every community can support what Masonic Homes is doing. But as we see people fleeing from their religious affiliations and backgrounds in order to make their communities appear more appealing to consumers, it's nice to see a system embracing the positive parts of its history while also moving forward.

Follow Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN. Email her at


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.